Lord Vishnu incarnated Matsya avatar in Sat – Yug. According to the Bhagvad Purana, one day Lord Brahma (creator) approached Lord Vishnu (preserver) and said that he had foreseen a PRALAYA (disaster) that would occur soon and was worried for the safety of the Vedas*, which could be stolen. Lord Vishnu assured Brahmaji that he would take care of everything.
One day when Lord Brahma was in deep sleep the Vedas* happened to slip out of his possession. At that moment an asura, named HAYAGRIVA, who was watching this thought that, “This is my golden opportunity, I should absorb these vedas which are falling out of the Brahma’s Mouth.” Hayagriva swallowed the four Vedas, and hid them deep inside the ocean.
Without the knowledge of the Vedas all forms of life would die. But Vishnuji, (the preserver-God) saw Hayagriva absorbing the Vedas. He thought to himself that, “The PRALAYA (destruction) was to follow soon and I should retrieve the VEDAS for the next spell of Creation.”
As God was wondering what was to be done, he saw the pious Sage Satyavrata (also known as Vaivasvata Manu) who was a loyal devotee of Lord Vishnu. Satyavrata was in the river at sunrise to take a bath and do his meditaion and payers. God thought,” I will take the form of a fish and retrieve the Vedas and my devotee (Satyavrata) will help in this. He shall live through the Pralaya.” Thinking this Lord Vishnu took the form of a fish and as Satyavrata scooped up the next handful of water to offer it to his ancestors a tiny fish jumped and landed in his palms. Seeing this poor creature he thought that it must be very frightened and that he should put it back into the river.
As he was about to do so the fish said, “O noble soul, if you throw me into the water, big creatures might swallow me up. I have come to you for shelter. Will you disown me like that ?” Satyavrata took pity and told the fish not to worry as he will take care of her. He put the fish into his KAMANDALU and went back to his hermitage. Overnight, the fish grew too big to be in the Kamandalu.
The fish requested him to move him to a larger vessel. Satyavrata did so but soon the fish became too big to fit into that larger vessel. Addressing the Sage, fish said that he should protect him and find a suitable living space for him. Satyavrata then emptied the vessel into a large pond near his hermitage along with the fish. But, in no time the fish grew as large as the pond and filled it. Then the fish urged Sage to take it to a large and deep lake.
Although Satyavrata took it to several lakes, one larger than the other, the fish kept growing bigger and bigger. It went on asking for larger and larger living space. Satyavarata got vexed and decided to put it into the ocean. While he reached the ocean, the fish addressed him, “Oh Sage, do not put me into the ocean, I am sure to be swallowed by the gigantic creature there.”
Satyavrata became suspicious now. He was despairing to know how that wonderful tiny fish could grow so big in one day that it has covered the largest lake. In a flash, he realized that it was Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish. Satyavrata immediately bowed before the fish and prayed to be told why God had appeared in the form of a fish?
The Lord told his devotee, “Just a week from now, the ocean will rise and flood the entire Universe for PRALAYA (dissolution/end of creation). At that time a large boat will appear on the horizon. He asked Satyavrata to collect herbs and seeds of all plants, and one animal of each type required for the next spell of creation and get into the boat and wait for me. Take VASUKI, the king of Serpents, and the SAPTHA RISHIS* *(seven Sages) along with you. I would then appear as a fish to propel the boat to Mount Himavan”.
After addressing Satyavrata Lord Vishnu left to fulfill his mission (retrive the Vedas). When Hayagriva saw the gigantic fish approaching towards him he was overtaken by fear but he knew if he opened his mouth the Vedas will be lost. He held the VEDAS tightly in his mouth. But soon the Divine Fish slew him and recovered the VEDAS and restored them back to BRAHMA to resume the function of CREATION at an appropriate time.
As foretold by the DIVINE FISH, seven days later PRALAYA (deluge) set in and huge tidal waves started covering the earth. Sage Satyavrata, the Saptha Rishis and all the living creatures waited by the shore for the boat to appear. Suddenly a huge vessel appeared and all of them climbed in the boat while it was being tossed around in that turbulent ocean.True to his word, Lord appeared in the form of a golden gigantic fish and it had a horn.
Fish said loudly,” Fasten the boat to my horn, using Vasuki as a rope. Do not worry, none of you will be harmed.” Satyavrata tied the boat to the fish using the royal serpent Vasuki. This way the fish took all of them to Mt Himavan and kept them there till the flood was over.Lord VISHNU in this manner saved his true Devotees from PRALAYA (destruction) so as to hand down the divine knowledge to the next generation and saved the VEDAS from destruction and ensured CREATION after DESTRUCTION.
* Vedas means knowledge and they are one of the holy Scriptures of Hindus which remains in the mouth of the Supreme Lord – BRAHMA. Without the Vedas creation of the new world cannot take place and with the aid of Vedas, Brahmaji (the creator God), performs his role. There are 4 kinds of Vedas – the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda.
** SAPT RISHIS – The Saptarishi are the primeval teachers who continue to guide humanity to the secrets of life and universe.